Heather Gvillo Jun. 2, 2015, 1:52pm


St. Clair County Circuit Judge Vincent Lopinot has granted General Motors' motion to dismiss a lawsuit claiming its defective engine and ignition key switch caused numerous collisions.

Lopinot concluded that the plaintiffs’ complaint failed to provide sufficient facts.

“[T]he court finds that there are grounds to grant the motion due to the complaints’ insufficiency in pleading dates and location of the accidents alleged,” Lopinot’s April 29 order states.

The plaintiffs responded by filing a second amended complaint on May 5, specifying the date, location and vehicle descriptions of the alleged accidents.

Plaintiff Melanie Austin and 22 other GM customers claim various GM vehicles include an ignition switch that can turn from the run position to the off position while the vehicle is running.

“When the key turns in this manner, the engine and power steering shut off, and the braking power and function are greatly reduced, often resulting in a loss of control and a collision,” the Jan. 20 lawsuit states.

The complaint states that a low position of the ignition switch on the vehicles’ steering columns makes it possible for drivers to accidentally bump the key and turn the car off.

The plaintiffs claim GM was aware of the defects as early as 2001 when it began developmental testing of the 2003 Saturn Ion, but elected to do nothing to correct the problem. In fact, GM allegedly installed the key system in the 2003 Saturn Ion and in several other GM models, the plaintiffs claim.

In their complaint, the plaintiffs mention numerous accidents that allegedly occurred as the result of the defect, including some fatal collisions. Although GM knew of the collisions, the plaintiffs claim the company continued to sell the vehicles for full price and to conceal the defects.

The plaintiffs allege strict products liability, negligence, fraudulent misrepresentation, fraudulent concealment, breach of implied warranty and breach of express warranty against the company.

GM filed a motion to dismiss on Feb. 23, arguing that none of the 23 plaintiffs alleged sufficient facts supporting their claims for relief.

“Each of the 23 plaintiffs, including a personal representative for a decedent and others, claims to have sustained injuries in 23 unrelated accidents involving unspecified vehicles allegedly manufactured and sold by GM LLC. Plaintiffs’ complaint attempts to allege a general defect with respect to the ignition switch in unspecified vehicles, but is otherwise completely devoid of any material factual allegations to support any of the individual plaintiffs’ claims,” the motion states.

The defendant also claims the complaint fails because the plaintiffs did not identify the make, model, year, vehicle identification number, or the proper identity of the manufacturer. Further, the plaintiffs are accused of failing to specify what defect allegedly caused or contributed to the accidents and what warranty was allegedly breached.

“The complaint discloses nothing more than each plaintiff’s name and place of residence; GM LLC is left to guess at the particulars of each plaintiff’s claim,” the motion states.

GM also seeks to separate the 23 claims into individual lawsuits “rather than jointly in this haphazardly construed action.”

In response, the plaintiffs filed a joint opposition on April 1 through attorney John J. Driscoll of The Driscoll Firm in St. Louis. They argue that they find it difficult to understand why GM could face and answer nearly identical allegations in the St. Louis Circuit Court but then seeks to dismiss the Madison County claims for being unspecific.

“It is difficult to imagine that the defendant could now claim that it cannot comprehend what it is that it is called upon to answer in this complaint, and impossible to establish that the plaintiffs’ have not plead facts that establish their right to recovery,” the response states.

The plaintiffs believe their allegations are sufficient to sustain under Common Law Fraud.

“It cannot reasonably be maintained that the plaintiffs’ complaint has not apprised the defendant of what it is called upon to answer,” the response states. “Although the plaintiffs have engaged in an involved investigation of the facts plead and believe their complaint satisfies the heightened pleading requirements to state a cause of action under Common Law Fraud, there is little doubt that discovery will further reveal the extent of the fraud perpetrated by the defendant.”

GM replied to the plaintiffs’ response on April 27, arguing that the plaintiffs allege numerous assertions that have no bearing on the issues in this case, including alleged facts from other issues GM vehicles have reportedly had.

“The only question for this court is whether plaintiffs’ complaint alleges any facts that connect their claims to the allegations against GM LLC,” the reply states. “It does not.”

GM supports its previous assertion that dismissal is proper, claiming the “who, what, when and where are nowhere to be found” in the complaint.

“Plaintiffs have acknowledged that a cause of action will be dismissed on the pleadings if it clearly appears that no set of facts can be proved that will permit a claimant to recover. Yet they have failed to address GM LLC’s arguments regarding the complaint’s utter lack of any material factual allegations to support any of the individual plaintiffs’ claims against GM LLC,” the reply states.

Additionally, GM noted that the plaintiffs failed to establish when and where the alleged accidents took place.

“Plaintiffs’ failure to disclose the dates of each plaintiff’s individual accident has made it impossible for GM LLC to determine whether any of the individual claims are barred by the Sale Order and Injunction and proceed accordingly,” the reply states.

The plaintiffs each seek a judgment of more than $250.000, plus costs and other relief the court deems just.

John J. Driscoll and Christopher J. Quinn of The Driscoll Firm in St. Louis represents the plaintiffs.

Peter B. Hoffman, Matthew S. Hendricks and Justin A. Welply of Baker, Sterchi, Cowden & Rice in St. Louis represents GM.

St. Clair County Circuit Court case number 15-L-26

More News